Friday, March 29, 2013

Is Marital Happiness A Myth?

As a teenager I had a belief that marriage was a downhill road. The happiest a couple would ever be would be at the time of the wedding and the honeymoon. My parents didn't seem all that thrilled to be raising three children. Oh, we felt loved and all, but life as a married couple didn't look like a joyful experience for them.

Little did I know that I was only half right.

As you can see from the chart above, we do start out at a high point of satisfaction. So far, so good. But then the decline begins, just as I imagined. But there is a bounce that happens somewhere around 25 years into the marriage. So what is going on?

Back then I was right about my parents’ relationship. The interaction between me and my siblings and our parents was often stressing them out. All of the things that kids require cost time and money, and often end up in endless conflicts of one sort or another. We were no different. If you look back on your teenage years, you will probably agree with me. It was not a particularly easy time.

But kids don’t stay around forever (hopefully) and when the emotional and financial burden eases up, things start to get better for the marriage. If you haven’t damaged your relationship beyond repair, have stayed connected, and have prepared for the future, life together becomes much more satisfying. In fact, the last years together are often even better than the first. 

Recently I overheard a conversation my Dad was having with the pastor at my Mom's memorial. He said "The best thing we ever did was produce and raise our three children. That's what I am proud of." So don't get discouraged. 

The important thing to note here is the normalcy and predictability of the curve.

People have often told us that our relational happiness is due to the fact that we did not get blessed with children. They are partly right, and statistics validate that point of view. The other part is the intentional work that we have put into the marriage to stay emotionally and spiritually connected. In truth, we have been blessed with many children through the counseling and teaching work that we do at church. God has not abandoned us.

For some, the curve will not be their normal. Unforeseen occurrences can change things, such as children with special needs that do not fit the regular developmental timelines. Early medical issues may crop up or disastrous financial situations. They can have a significant impact on us. That is when relying on God becomes especially crucial. I have found that many that have faced tough circumstances still manage to find joy and satisfaction in their marriage when they embrace each other in spiritual unity.

And for others the sailing is much smoother than the curve shows -- there is not the financial stress, or the kids you have produced have very easygoing temperaments. And then there are the grandchildren as rewards. 

Does the chart look hopeful to you? Are you at the beginning of the journey or ready to get started? Are you at the bottom of the curve and ready for the upswing? Or are you smiling because it is behind you and you know that it is true?

So, to answer the question -- no, marriage happiness is not a myth -- not if you take the full ride.

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